Start From the Heart: Problem Solving-Test Anxiety

by lclarcq on August 14th, 2018

filed under Archived Posts 2018, Encouragment, Engagement, Grading/Evaluation/Assessment, Problem Solving, Relationships, Start From The Heart, Starting The Year

Today’s post is a little out of order, but something caught my eye and I wanted to share it with you!!

One of the things we all deal with in the classroom is test anxiety. No matter how much “safety” we have built in, the moment the word “quiz” or “test” pops up (see what I did there? 🙂 ) some of our students just freeze up or freak out.

These ideas won’t necessarily solve the problem, but they will help! Not everyone can do all of these, but if you feel you can’t, ask yourself why. Is it that you really cannot, or is it that it is just outside of what you are accustomed to? Our own “beliefs” about assessment are based on experience, rather than reality….and it’s good to examine them!

So take these ideas seriously, but remember, not all ideas are for everyone!!

1. Don’t test students on things they haven’t “mastered”.

Is that possible? More or less, so let’s strive for more!! Traditionally, even if we don’t like to admit it, language tests have been all about the top students. They have been full of very specific elements and the exceptions rather than the regular. Let’s change that!

If we are teaching towards success, and for proficiency, let’s document what they KNOW and what they CAN DO. (Otherwise we should be writing Can’t Do Statements!!!) Let’s fill up our quizzes and tests with items that allow our students to demonstrate their strengths.

Now, if we need to assess a particular skill or item in order to find out if HOW the students are doing, let’s do a lot of informal assessment. Let’s use that formative assessment to adjust the input we deliver and the interactions we have in class!

EVERYONE acquires their first language without testing, I”m pretty sure that it is NOT a requirement for second language acquisition. If, and when, we are required by the powers that be to formally assess a skill, let’s do it with humor, confidence and joy. Or at the very least make it a part of a larger assessment so that the test is predominantly material they can be successful with!

2. Assess skills as well as knowledge.

This could be an entire course of information on proficiency and assessment grading! So I’ll just say that we need to look at our assessments to see if they actually assess what we think they are. Unfortunately, the easiest assessments to grade are often the least effective at actual assessment. Let’s pledge to continue to work with colleagues and explore ways to assess that don’t suck up large amounts of class time but do allow students to demonstrate what they can do, as well as what they know.

3. Don’t put every assessment in the “book.”

Like many TPRS/CI teachers, I usually only put grades in the book if approximately 80% of the students earned a score of 80% or above. If the class, as a whole, scores poorly, then clearly there was a problem with the assessment or I assessed them too early. I should not be punishing the students for those reasons.

If just a few students do poorly, then I follow the department/school policies for make up tests. And make sure they get what they need if I can!

4. Give students what they need in advance, without giving them the answers.

Giving them the answers is what they say they want, because their experience is that teachers want very specific answers. Is that what we want? I don’t think so. Not on most assessments anyway. So let’s provide our students with materials that fill that need to have “answers” to prepare for…at least just a little bit.

A. Short lists, in paper form or on sites like Quia where students can “practice” will fulfill some of that need and lessen anxiety for students, parents and colleagues. They don’t have to be required, but they can be if that fits the needs of your situation.

B. Readings, and listenings, are their best gift. Anything that you do in class that can be put on line or in print form for them to use as a resource is also a gift. Of course, we don’t always have time for that, but if you have access to upper level students (they don’t have to be yours!) or cooperative heritage speakers, take advantage of their abilities to help you to prepare these materials.

C. Show them the format in advance. Not because they need it to do well, but so that they are not stressed when they see it.

D. Give assessment “structure” they can count on. We have lots of routines in the classroom. Let’s consider “testing” routines. Here are the ones I used in my deskless classroom in the last two years:

1. An assessment every Thursday. Sometimes very short, sometimes longer. I may or may not have told them in advance what would be on it, but they did know the format. It could be reading/listening (illustrate, fill in the blank questions, English questions, Spanish questions, open-ended questions, etc.) or writing (free write, structured writing, response writing) They also knew how it would be graded.

Confession: I needed to schedule assessments or I would forget to do them. Occasionally I would just call an assessment-free week and I could, because I knew that I already had enough in the book!

2. Students arrived to find a good luck message on their seats. Check this out!

Students could, if they wanted to, take a quick picture of the message before erasing it to prepare for the quiz.

3. Students picked up a “good luck duck” if they wanted to. I had a collection of tiny plastic ducks that students could have by their side during tests and quizzes. The Patitos were very popular!

(These are from Oriental Trading company..click on pic…which is where I got mine.)

4. After our daily start routine, I would announce the assessment and ask student to find a spot to take their quiz. Because we were deskless, they were allowed, within reason, to go to a different part of the room to take assessments. During this time, students were allowed to talk quietly, make sure they had a whiteboard/marker and borrow a writing utensil if needed. (I only allowed a couple of minutes for this!)

5. I used one of our call and response signals to quiet the group.

6. Tests were passed out FACE DOWN AND KEPT FACE DOWN. If the test had two sides, they put it under their whiteboards. I reviewed and reinforced this all year!!

7. When everyone had a test, then, we all took three deep breaths together and turned them over together. Everyone put their name on the paper at the same time. Then, I went over the instructions, asked questions to make sure that they understood the instructions and let them ask questions about the instructions. (Middle school, remember?!)

8. Students began the assessment. When they were finished, they answered the quiz question (see below) that was on the paper or the screen/board. (See below)

9. When that was finished, students either handed me the paper or raised their hand for me to collect (depended on the group!!). Either way, I looked over EACH paper as it was turned in to make sure that it was complete. If not, I could have a short conversation with that student to encourage/support finishing it. I also checked to see if their name was on it! (Middle school, remember?!)

10. Students then created a good luck note for the next class on their white boards.

11. If students are still testing, those who have finished their tests found a book in our FVR collection to read.

12. When all tests are turned it, I played a favorite, upbeat song and everyone returned to their regular seats for the next activity!! (Often a brain break!)

This routine looks long on paper, but it wasn’t and it solved many, many, many potential problems!

E. Connect with a Question:

For years my colleague Karen and I have suggested the sharing space at the end of the quiz. We know that a lot of you already do it. It’s a wonderful way to catch a moment with each student. Leave a section a the end of each assessment where you can do any of the following:

1. Ask a question (L1 or L2….to be answered in any way you prefer…I usually ask for answers in L1 but encourage and celebrate all answers in L2!)

Some ideas:
What was the best part of your week?
What are you looking forward to this weekend?
What nice thing did you do for someone this week?
Name two places you want to go to in your lifetime.
Who do you look up to and why?
What makes you laugh?
Who is your favorite Youtube star?
Tell me the name of a show/song/book I need to see/hear/read.

2. Ask for a drawing. It could be something you can use to intro the next lesson, or simple a random “Draw me a picture.”

3. Ask for feedback on the test, the week, whatever!

4. Take a poll: What Friday activity do you want to work for?
Do we need a seating chart change?
Etc.

F. Assess with confidence, joy and humor!

It’s pretty difficult to change a mindset that has been years in the making, but it’s worth a try! So many of our students are “test-stressed” that anything we can do to lessen their anxiety is a gift, to them and to our entire community.

So don’t be afraid to make it fun!! Use humorous pictures for writing prompts and humorous stories for reading. Put one or two totally ridiculous, or class-related answers in the multiple choice options. (It’s a great sneaky way to check comprehension….if they laugh, they understood!)

Celebrate with words! Say OUT LOUD when you are proud of how they approached an assessment, did their best, etc. If we can remind them that it is their attitude that can make the biggest difference, it will become easier for them to believe it!!

I love to use music to “end” an assessment. Let them sing! Let them use percussion instruments (if you dare). Let them gesture! Let them dance! Go back to the joy any chance that you can! (Even if they pretend they are too sophisticated for it!)

This turned out to be a bit longer than I planned. It isn’t your typical assessment post, but I hope that it solves some problems for you!

Oh….I almost forgot! Here is what caught my eye. I would love to have kids use these, but only on tests!

(I found these on Zulily…click on pic)
with love,
Laurie

A Guest Heart Speaks….Andrea Shearer

by lclarcq on May 20th, 2018

filed under Archived Posts 2018, Encouragment, Guest Speakers, Musings, Not So Good Days, Students and Tragedy, The Teaching Profession

A fellow language teacher posted this piece on Facebook, and has graciously allowed me to share it here with you. May you and your students find not only safety, but peace on campus this week. with love, Laurie

Teenagers Are On My Mind. By Andrea Shearer:

Teenagers are on my mind. I love teenagers deep in my aching chest. I mean I literally love this one and that one and those two over there and group after group of teenagers. I didn’t plan it. I just do.

Elementary school teachers and high school teachers view each other equally incredulously of how the other can teach their respected age group. I will pass on a room full of 5 year olds. I’ll take a room full of angry teens any day. I love working with them. They make more sense to me. Even their dysfunction makes sense.

Just on the other side of puberty and the protective force fields of their parents’ love, teenagers’ grief for their fleeting childhoods and hope for and anticipation of their futures leave them almost in suspension. They are in the infancy of adulthood, still with the tender hearts of children but the intellect of adults, their stories aren’t written yet and they are just beginning to write them. Fledgling idealists. They are experiencing their first true loves beyond that of their parents. They are stunned as they get their hearts broken for the first time. Their understanding of the world around them abruptly shifting, their values being shaped by the daily battle between their intentions and their outcomes, they are in denial of many harsh truths. Denial is, after all, a stage of grief. Nothing in their lives up to now was their choice or is their fault and they haven’t had a chance to do anything about it yet. They are surprised when they screw stuff up. Their own weaknesses stand between them and what they would do if it were up to them. They are so full of everything they need except comfort and experience. It takes time and wisdom and cultivation to make a sensible place in this world for yourself.

But I’m experienced enough to know how to cultivate comfort. My wish is that my classroom be a refuge, offering a comfortable space to cultivate wisdom. A place to bring a tender heart and a budding intellect. A fertile garden in which to grow. In providing that refuge, I witness so many of their tragic realizations about this world. I try to be present as so to catch any opportunity for joy and exploit it for wind in their sails. The rest is up to them.

I’m failing right now to express how sad I feel about school shootings and the reality these kids are growing up in. Every time I try, I end up reducing it down to how much I cherish them. They are important.

When I meet people and they find out I’m a high school teacher, often times, the first thing they do is express how dangerous it must be, to work in a profession with such a high rate of violence. People thank me for having the courage, not to deal with their hormones or bad attitudes or to shape the minds of tomorrow, but to walk into a building every day that may very well host a bloodbath because, for some reason, we don’t know how to stop that.

My sadness and sorrow is perpotionate to the degree to which I love the particular creature that is the human teenager. They are my people. They deserve to be safe. They deserve to be protected. They are trying to grow up. We are treating them like they are worthless. They are hurting. They need us.
Be nice to teenagers.

And figure this out.

I’m Overwhelmed and I Don’t Like It Anymore

by lclarcq on February 14th, 2018

filed under Archived Posts 2018, Encouragment, Not So Good Days, The Teaching Profession

Dear Readers,

Eighteen years ago I wrote this post to the moretprs listserv. It is a response to a teacher named Teresa and it is somewhat personal, but at this time of the year, everything seems a bit personal. Or at least we take things personally…too little sun for many people, too little time for ourselves, giving too much to others. I’m sharing in case anyone here could use it:

I have read this several times Teresa…and can identify with everything you have said. My heart goes out to you. Teaching is cyclical. We all have moments of great joy and great frustration, enthusiasm..and yes..even boredom. We are subjected to cycles of professional interest…Madeleine Hunter, Mastery Learning…and professional change, department members , heads, administrators..and the like…..we experience years whenthe students make sense and connect..and others when we hope our children never turn out like that..and wonder if we are older than we feel….Life also…moves ahead on its own cycle.

Those of us who started teaching young, and fresh out of college, jumped in with nothing else to distract us. We happily took on those jobs we were told “came with the position”, be they coaching, student council, advisorships, etc. We felt privileged to be asked. (A lovely but naive thought :o)) We saw them as wonderful opportunities to bond with students and become a part of the school and community. Teaching was our life!!! And then Life creeps in: spouses, children, mortgages, family crisises, parents’ illnesses…perhaps our own. With as many joys and sorrows as our teaching life…but all drawing on the same emotional account. And for some reason, here we are 7, 12, 18 years later, wondering why we have become exhausted and jaded. Why we don’t feel like we are good at anything….teaching,counseling, advising, parenting,bill-paying,house-cleaning,exercising,friendships, relationships, or…anything. And how could we be? Why should we feel we have to be?

My personal life has taken a turn in the past two years which has hadin irreversible effect on my teaching. On one hand, I have not been as”effective” in many areas as I once was…or hope to be again. (parental contact, correcting, professional committees, advising etc.) On the other hand…in letting go of some things I thought were “essential”, I have found areas of greater depth of focus than I ever thought possible. Yes, my teaching has had a much different effect on my students…and a better one in many ways. Without going into anything personal , let me share the insights I have received. They have come from my own thoughts and perceptions, and also those of my students, their parents, my colleagues,and friends. Maybe you will find some inspiration in them as I did.

A) CONTRARY TO PUBLIC OPINION, WE ARE NOT WHAT WE DO.

This is a myth. Perpetuated by overachievers and carried on by those of us with a great
capacity for guilt. Your worth is not determined by the number of activities you advise, the amount of papers you correct, nor even the hours you devote to your job.

B )WE ARE WHAT WE SHARE.

We are…Language lovers. Caregivers. Thinkers. Motivators. Inspirers. Mentors. Instructors. Partners. Organizers. Creative geniuses. Laugh-makers. Leaders. Team-members. Mind-openers. Confidence-builders. That is who we are. THAT IS WHO YOU ARE. Very valuable…in this profession and in this world.

C) THE JOB GOES TO ONE WHO SAYS YES.

It has taken me 18 years of teaching…and a good many years of involuntary volunteerism before that to figure this out. Sometimes not saying no = saying yes.

D) IF I DON’T SAY YES THEY WILL FIND SOMEONE WHO WILL.

Say this to yourself over and over again until it starts to sound believable. They (the
powers that be and your own conscience) will tell you otherwise. Look around at all the other people who are not doing what you do. They said no. Look at all you do. You said yes. If you say no, someone will step up to fill the vacuum, in many cases. Saying yes does not make you better. It makes you busier. …and sometimes makes you bitter.

E)YOUR VERY NATURE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO BE A BAD TEACHER.

If you are a good teacher by nature and by practice, you will continue to be one. You
might be a DIFFERENT KIND of good teacher than you were 5 years ago or 5 years from now….but your knowledge, skill, caring, and love will always make you a good teacher.

F) YOU WILL EARN AS MUCH RESPECT FOR SETTING BOUNDARIES AS YOU WILL FOR TRYING TO DO IT ALL.

I did not know this. I still have to remind myself of it often. And even better, you will have something of yourself left at the end of the day.

G) IT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA TO PUT OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN BEFORE YOUR OWN.

We have all seen it happen. The ideal teacher or principal. The award-winning coach. With no connection to their own. The older my children are (now 7 and 9) (additional note…they are now 25 and 27!!!) the more I see the truth in this.

H) YOU ARE TEACHING BY EXAMPLE.

I have seniors who we refer to as “serial joiners”. They have signed up for every club, activity and sport available. Some are near the nervous breakdown stage. Others have eating disorders. Must do everything. Perfectly if possible. I was one, can still be one if I am not careful. I don’t think it is healthy for them. I want them to learn to set priorities and manage time. Find balance. I cannot do that if I show them…by example…that I think a good person is one who does everything and does it well come hell or high water. If I only love myself as an overachiever , how can I convince them that they have great worth for who they are…not the number of items they accomplish in one day?

I) CAN I BE GRATEFUL ABOUT THIS…OR JUST RESENTFUL?

This is the test I have been using to decide whether to say yes or no. If I can be
grateful…it is worth considering. If I will only feel resentful (regardless of how good an idea it is or no matter how important it is to someone else!!!!!!!!!!!) I must seriously consider whether it is worth the time and energy involved.

J) NOT EVERYTHING MUST BE DONE RIGHT NOW.

I have a great list of great ideas. I take comfort in the fact that someday I will do most of them(or get someone else to !!) I am learning to wait to get them accomplished… Everything in its own time.

If you have made it to the end of this ramble…thanks for sticking with me….it was probably more helpful for me to write it to myself than for you to read it!! :o) Teresa, your discomfort and frustration right now are a healthy sign that you are ready to grow. Good things are coming your way personally and professionally. But you may have to let go of some things to
make room for them in your life. It may be an attitude, an outlook, or a responsibility. For some teachers it has even meant a change in position, to another facet of teaching, or a position in another district. For others, just a shift in their approach to each day’s work. I understand how you feel. My friends who are reading this will tell you I have been there and still find myself there many days. It is part of the midpoint in the teaching cycle…who knows…maybe any point in the cycle. But the cycle will continue…I wish you peace and joy with your life and your profession as you go. And strange as it may seem, the discomfort and
frustration may just bring you what you really want and need. Keep your eyes and heart open.

with love,
Laurie

Leaving A Little Room for Hope

by lclarcq on September 18th, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Encouragment, Engagement, Good Days, Musings

It’s been a little busy in my world, and I bet it has been in your world too. Once the year gets going, it just seems to pick up speed! It’s easy, when things get crazy, to get caught up in what isn’t done and what isn’t going right. At least it is for me! I can get all discombobulated about the kid who is often late, the parent who thinks I don’t answer emails quickly enough or the online training I was supposed to have done yesterday. In the past week or so though I have run a few moments that caught me by surprise….and I wanted to share them with you.

As some of you know, last year a group of 6th graders and I struggled our way through the year. We had a rocky start and a lot was expected of them and I’m sure that they felt that they never quite measured up. I’m lucky enough to have about 1/3 of them back again this year and they are SO impressive. ‘It’s just clicking into place!” one girl said and another stopped by after class to say that this year is SO easy. And I was worried that they would carry that rocky start with them for their entire language career. It’s let me relax a little and not fret so much about kids being “behind”. I am seeing that if we all hang in there, and they get enough comprehensible input, the sky really is the limit!

A week or so ago, I told my classes that before school started (and with not a few winks) I went to the registrar and made it quite clear that I would only teach students who were clearly very bright, extremely easy to love and kind to others, not to mention wonderful to look at every day. A girl came in late today, having run the mile in PE, and whispered to the boy next to her. “I’m the sweatiest, ugliest girl on campus. Sorry you have to sit next to me.” He whispered back, “Not in Ms. Clarcq’s class you aren’t, don’t worry about it.” Totally serious. She just smiled and said thanks. (Isn’t it funny that kids don’t think you can hear them?!) My words may have been (somewhat) in jest, but the sentiment behind them was not….and he knew that. (and I wasn’t even sure he was listening!)

I have a group of boys who always pitch a little fit on the days we do SSR. They don’t get a book on their way in. They moan (quietly at least) when I remind them to get a book and they draaaaaaag themselves over to the shelves and reluctantly open the book. Sometimes they try to read it upside down …just to see if I am paying attention. Or whisper behind the open book as if I can’t tell it’s them. :0) My strategy is to wait them out. I don’t actually start the reading timer until they settle down. On Friday I was sorely tempted to just give up and send everyone to turn their books back in when FINALLY they got quiet. Seven minutes later, when it was time to put the books away, they were the last ones to do it!! And I had to move them along a little. One of them actually turned to a friend to tell him what was happening in the book!! Who’d a thunk it?

I bet these moments happen way more often than I notice. I think I need to start looking for them more. Waiting for them more. And making a little more room for Hope to take root.

with love,
Laurie

Please Can We Finish This Next Week?!!

by lclarcq on February 17th, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Encouragment, Good Days, Output, Writing i

I never thought I would hear that about WRITING from my 6th graders!!! For the last 10 minutes of each class (yes..on a FRIDAY even!) I had each student start writing a story…their first story of their own. It was very structured and I was worried they might balk at it….but they were so happy doing it!!

First we reviewed parts of a story (characters, setting, conflict, resolution…there are more but that is all we can handle right now!) in English ( 2 minutes tops)

Then we brainstormed, out loud, in Spanish, what we could say about Brandon Brown as the lead character in the book we are reading. I did not write anything on the board. I told them that they then had five minutes to write between 3 and 5 sentences about a character of their own making. It could be a person or an animal or an object THAT THEY KNEW HOW TO SAY IN SPANISH.

By keeping the time short, and the amount of information limited, I had just enough to time to get around the room once and help anyone who was stuck. I then went to the board, wrote the phrases and said, “This is the language I am seeing you use: (I did this in Spanish but not everyone reading this speaks Spanish so…) There is____ His/her name is______ S/he lives in_______ S/he is_________ S/he has___________ S/he likes _____________ If you would like to add any more information about the character I will give you one more minute.”

This was the time when I introduced, and didn’t give in on, using only language that we have used in class. I felt that I had to start that way immediately, in order to establish that as a skill and build on it.

Step 2: I wrote the phrases One day, One night, One afternoon on the board and asked students to help me think of others we knew how to say (One morning, One week, One month, One year) Then I added On Monday (brainstormed other days), and In January (brainstormed other months).
I gave them 2 minutes to pick a time/date when the story was taking place. They could use one phrase (One day) or a combination (One day in June) and write that on their papers.

Step 3: I wrote the phrase _________is in/at school. Then they brainstormed other places they could say (only two or three!) I gave them permission to also use proper names of cities, countries, stores, etc. And one minute to write where the character is at the start of the story.

Step 4: Turn to a partner and read what you have so far out loud. Check to see what s/he understands. (THEY LOVED THIS PART!)

Step 5: Write the sentence: ________________ has a problem. In every class, students asked if they could also write. He has a big problem. or It is an important problem. etc.. Permission granted!! Why? We know how to say it!

Step 6: I write _____ wants something. and ________ needs something. I ask them to pick one and write the sentence. Then they write the sentence and fill replace the word “something” with what the character wants….and of course, it has to be something they know how to say in Spanish. _____ wants________ and ________ needs____________. (I love that RIGHT AWAY they are learning to use the word “something””

And that is pretty much as far as we got. It took less than 10 minutes, even with classes of 30 +. Because they were ready. Because we had waited. Because now they had language they could use.

All three classes groaned when it was time to go because they hadn’t been able to finish!

I am so looking forward to next week! (I don’t remember saying that very often in February!)

with love,
Laurie

No Longer Strangers

by lclarcq on February 13th, 2017

filed under Archived Posts 2017, Classroom Management, Encouragment, Engagement, Personalizing Instruction

It’s been three months. Days that sometimes seemed very long but months that have been very short. I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but recently there has been a change in my room. It feels like we are no longer strangers. This is so much better. I really was worried it wouldn’t happen.

I know, maybe everyone doesn’t really work this way, but I like knowing who the kids are in my room. I know their names. I know when one has new shoes. I’m learning who is always hungry and who never has anything to write with. I know whose family can afford a trip to Cozumel this spring and who wants to hang out after school and not go home. I know who will paint their face, wear feathers and paint their nails for Rally Day. I know who stays home on Rally Day because the energy level all day before the rally is too much to handle. I know who thinks they are old enough to be in high school and who still keeps a stuffed animal in their backpack every day. I know some things I am grateful to know, and other things that punch me in the gut when I think about them.

I don’t know something about everyone. But we have gotten to know each other. It’s a wonderful thing. I really didn’t enjoy working with strangers.

Middle schoolers are both a tough and a fragile bunch. Their tears are very real and they are often started by something that is only a big deal from the perspective of a middle schooler. One thing I have remembered is that middle school isn’t always fun to remember. But, the best way to connect with my middle schoolers has been to reconnect with my middle school self.

So, she and I are no longer strangers either.

She sometimes rode her bike to school…and sometimes took the bus.
On the days she rode her bike, her hair was even more of a complete disaster than usual.
On the days she took the bus, the high school boys pinched her on the butt and snapped her bra and she was mortified….but never told anyone.

She wanted very badly to be a cheerleader but just couldn’t jump. And her glasses fell off.
She thought she was smarter than the teachers some days and smarter than the other kids most days. And so she was a smart mouth sometimes. And then she cried because it felt mean.

She doesn’t have 7th grade pictures because her family of 7 were all living in a one-bedroom apartment transition housing and there probably wasn’t enough money……even if her mom did say that it was because the pictures were too ugly. That was less scary for her mom to say, but not less hard for her daughter to hear.

She fell desperately in love for minutes at a time with boys she absolutely did not know at all and totally ignored the ones she did. Or teased them unmercifully.

She daydreamed in class EVERY SINGLE DAY, often all period long.

She felt like she had to save the world and yet had absolutely no power at all.

Every, single, thing…..was changing.
Every, single, thing…..made no sense anymore.
Every, single, thing…..was desperately frightening.

On the inside.

On the outside she was a greasy-haired, four-eyed, smart-mouthed, desperately shy, passionate, closet-romance-reading, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, got-detention-for-laughing-in-class child having to deal with womanly issues and a great big world. And most of the time she didn’t do it very well. I guess that was the point. :o)

I was everything and nothing that I wanted to be. Getting to know her again has really helped me to get to know them. Loving her, for the first time, has helped me to love them too.

with love,
Laurie

Tricky Tuesdays

by lclarcq on December 6th, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Encouragment, Engagement

On Monday I can actually get pretty fired up. I haven’t seen my students for a few days and I’m excited to get going with some new things for the week.

But Tuesdays….ah…that is an entirely different day. It’s the day to dig in and make some progress. Friday seems a mile away. The kids are starting to feel pressure from other teachers and other classes. We are all a little grumpy.

Today was an eye-opener. I gave a quiz to the Level 1 students and got a very clear look at what they can, and cannot do. Let’s just say we have our work cut out for us. It feels like a a lot of pressure….and I’m an adult with a lot of experience behind me.

No one left feeling upbeat. We refocused, got serious, cleared the decks, dug in and started over. It doesn’t feel good to start over 17 weeks in.

This is where I have to really get to know my students. The more we can work together, the more we will get done. I have to work to create situations where we can successfully trust each other. Baby steps, baby steps, baby steps. It’s always the little things that matter.

It’s too early to see many changes, but I’m trying to lay the groundwork by doing the following:

We are making a birthday calendar and talking about birthdays. We celebrate birthdays together.

We are talking about pets. Pets are a powerful magnet for interest and caring about pets a socially aceptable way to show emotion and affection.

I’m using the school’s character ed “points” to recognize kids who are patient and supportive as well as cooperative….in addition to those who are showing improvement. My opinion doesn’t matter enough to them yet to accept genuine compliments as rewards of any kind. They need a concrete reward. (Not my thing if you know me, but it is a school-wide program with noble goals so I can live with it!! 😉 )

We have about 10 classroom jobs…and those are helping us to feel more like a team. Little by little by little by little by little.

We’ve been able to be a little silly. Five-a-day in Spanish, Sr. Wooly, one silly story. Those too will add up.

In time…it’s only Tuesday.

with love,
Laurie

At The Beginning….Baby Steps

by lclarcq on December 1st, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Creating Stories, Encouragment, Engagement, Relationships, Starting The Year, TPRS techniques

If you are just starting out with TPRS, and you feel as if you are not doing enough with your students fast enough….take heart….you have an enormous advantage!!!

WE HAVE TO START SLOWLY. I put TPRS+slow into Google just for fun and discovered HUNDREDS of pieces that address how important it is to start off slowly with students who are new to language and/or new to being in a TPRS classroom.

I am choosing only one skill/concept as a goal for my students per week. The only goal I am really focusing on this week is Listening Well. I have to be honest….it’s killing me to do it. I can think of DOZENS of things that I could add to class right now that would make it more interesting, but I know that if I want them to listen WELL, I’d better stick with that.

Now, I am sneaking in opportunities for next week’s goal which is RESPOND WELL. We all know that no skill really works in isolation. But I don’t expect to see any progress in anything other than the LISTENING WELL.

I’m trying to remember to:
Point out what it looks like. (See here for more info.)
Thank students when they do it. (individually or as a group)
Be patient when they get too excited about what we are doing to only listen.
Remind them that listening and talking should not be done simultaneously.
Wait, and wait, and wait, until they are listening.
Ask any student who responds to or asks a question to wait until their peers are quiet before they speak.

It is so hard to move in baby steps when there is so much ground to cover. But this kind of teaching is about the journey not the destination. I have to be where my students are, NOT try to get them to where I want to be. It’s the only way we will ever be together.

I realized today that part of my ‘inner stress” comes from thinking that I am not in control if I meet them where they are. My perspective was skewed. I cannot change where they are right this minute. I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN CONTROL OF THAT. I can only be in control of where I am and how I interact with them. If I chose to meet them where they are, we will be together and I can help them on the journey. If I stand at the finish line, impatiently waiting for them to show up, expecting them to arrive in a place they cannot get to on their own, I am choosing stress for all of us.

The dear and brilliant Brian Barabe told me once that TPRS is like yoga…and to use the mantra “You are where you are supposed to be.” I need to remember that more often.

with love,
Laurie

Skill #1: Listening Well

by lclarcq on November 29th, 2016

filed under Archived Posts 2016, Classroom Management, Creating Stories, Encouragment, Musings

So today I bit the bullet and decided to try to start a story in every class. I told myself (and them) that it didn’t matter how far we got with the story. I said that we would just get started. I told them that it wasn’t easy, at first, to just starting creating stories together. I told them that we would deal with the story-building skills as we went along. (and said a little prayer….)

One of the things that I have told my classes is that I work very hard so that Spanish class will be interesting and that acquiring Spanish can “feel” easy. However, none of the work I do with make any difference if the students against me rather than with me. I need this group to work with me….and they aren’t there yet. (and they sometimes look at me like I’m from another planet for wanting that!)

Over the years, many teachers have crafted a list of “behavior rules” for their classes as a way to get classes to work together. I knew that I needed to outline something similar for my new students but inside I was cringing at the idea that students with between 7 and 9 years of schooling needed “behavior rules.” I mean, I know that kids don’t always “behave” but it isn’t because they don’t know, by now, what appropriate school behavior is!!

So I tried this week to put out the expectation that every day we would be using four sets of skills. The first one is Listening Well. I didn’t want to make it too complicated (as a teacher I love doing that lol) , so I left it at this:

Listening Well means paying attention to what is said and what it means. I figured that that could cover a lot of bases!

Listening Well is Skill #1 because nothing else in acquisition happens without it…especially for Novices. I can check in with my beginners by simply asking them what I said and what it means.

In reality, Listening Well is NOT an easy skill, for anyone, in any language. We can all improve at it. (I know that I can!!)

What Listening Well looks like needed to be clarified for them.

For instance, Listening Well doesn’t happen if you are speaking at the same time. :o)
Listening Well to the teacher doesn’t happen if you are listening to a classmate. :o)
Listening Well doesn’t happen if you have earbuds in your ears. :o)

(I’m also pretty sure that I’ll be clarifying and re-clarifying those points on a regular basis!)

It is why I needed them to be able to focus on me and be silent at my signal. ( For more on signals…Check out this post!)

The idea is, I told them, that if the class can hear me, they will know when and how to add interesting pieces to the story.

And for a while in every single class, they were able to demonstrate that skill!! For the 8th graders ‘a while” was between 15 and 20 minutes. For the 6th graders it was between 10 and 15 minutes!!

I made it clear that when the skill got too difficult, we would change activities…so once I had to refocus any class for the second story I paused the story-asking and told them how we would continue next. (See the post-script at the bottom!) And then we moved on to another activity. They didn’t want to end it (yay!) but I did. I wanted to pause each story before it fell apart (or I did!).

Next post: Skill #2: Responding Well.

FYI….I still did a LOT of waiting until they were quiet, staring at whisperers (with a smile of steel), and walking over and standing next to the easily distracted!! I was not as patient with one group as I would have wanted!!!! It’s a fine line between calling a student out on behavior and publicly embarrassing him/her. In Middle School it’s even more delicate…I’m learning and re-learning!

with love,
Laurie
PS. Our progress:

8th grade class A: Identified a character and setting, identified a problem, attempted to the solve the problem. Final activity: In Spanish, write down one reason in English the character will not solve the problem and tell me before class. (i.e. doesn’t have $, asked the wrong person, etc.)

8th grade classes B and C: Identified a character and setting, identified a problem. Final activity: In Spanish, write down where (location) the character goes to solve the problem and why. Hand in before leaving.

6th grade classes: Identified a character and setting. Given a problem: The character needs ____________. Final Activity: Write down in Spanish two things the character might need.

Starting Over

by lclarcq on November 28th, 2016

filed under Classroom Management, Encouragment, Musings, Relationships, Starting The Year

Hello from California!! I managed to be retired for all of six weeks before I moved cross country and sign on for a new job. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it was a good one!

For the past 30+ years I have worked in small districts in rural, upstate (seriously upstate) New York. For some of those years I taught grades K-8 but the majority of them were teaching high school students. My new job is teaching 6th-8th graders in a suburban, well-populated section of Northern California!

The students had another teacher for over 10 weeks and now we are all starting over.

I had met a few times with the sixth graders and today was our second real day together. They have been out of school for two weeks between Science Camp and Thanksgiving Vacation!!! So yes…we are really, really starting over.

The 8th graders and I got started the week before Thanksgiving. So today was day 6 for us.

I forgot how much there is to accomplish at the beginning…….

These students, all of them, are brand-new to me. Our very first accomplishment will be working together. Seriously. They are used to a different set up in class and mine requires a great deal of self-control…..or at least more than they have had to use. 🙂 I know they are capable. They know they are capable. Now…I have to get them to agree to do it.

The first day I worked with them (class sizes about 30), they were sitting with friends in groups of four. I tried to speak. I tried to get their attention. No one stopped talking. Not one student.

My pulse was racing, my face was flushed, my smile was frozen and my heart was pounding. I did not know the name of one single student. For the first time in nearly 30 years I also did not know their parents, their siblings, or even their other teachers.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the room before I tried again. It was probably seconds…it felt like hours. I was being completely ignored.

So I tried again. I used a ‘signal’ that their former teacher had used. A few students noticed and responded half-heartedly…then kept right on talking. This was not going the way I had hoped!!!

Try number three….in a slightly louder, more authoritative voice. This time more than half of the class looked at me, shifted in their seats and mumbled a response. AND….made eye contact.

This was the most crucial moment for me. It happened in all three classes. I had to maintain eye contact with the 15 or so students spread across the room. With a smile on my face, I held my ground….for maybe 15 seconds. A small girl near me whispered to me, “I think it’s working!” I tried to just keep breathing!! One by one the rest of the group settled down and then turned around….finally realizing that something was happening. When everyone was quiet I smiled at stared at them while I (painfully!) counted to 5 in my head. Then I finally introduced myself. I think that was the most challenging 30 seconds of my teaching career.

I am dead serious.

I have no history at this school. No reputation precedes me. I felt completely naked and alone in front of those kids waiting for the silence, and for their attention. My head said…wait, wait, wait it out. My heart said…this isn’t going to work…they are going to ignore you forever.

I’d like to say that after that one encounter in each class, that I was able to establish order in a heartbeat with a look. Or at least using our signal.

Um, no. The 8th graders and I have found a direction in the week we have had together…but daily reminders, and those 30 second wait times, while not nearly so heart-pounding, still happen once during every class. The 6th graders? Well….we didn’t get much done today academically. There were maybe 10 “usable” minutes out of 35. i’m still learning names, getting them into a routine, helping them adjust to transitions and working to get them to function with a new seating system (where they all face forward and don’t sit with their friends.)

BUT…in one class 5 of those 10 usable minutes were truly beautiful. Students were asked if their vacation was “excelente” or ‘terrible” or somewhere in between. Only one girl said terrible. I asked her if the reason was a secret, she said no, she wanted to share. (Thankfully the class was quiet and listening….and this, of course, is why we needed it…) She shared in a whisper to me that her aunt had cancer. I told the class in Spanish. Then I asked, in Spanish, ‘Who has a friend, or someone in their family, with cancer?” Over half of the class raised their hands. Even though these kids had only a few weeks of Spanish, I could say to her…The class is with you. They are your friends. You are not alone.

I could tell the class that in 2013 I had cancer. And we learned the word hope.

She needed that. So did I. So did I.

with love,
Laurie